On-site Search: Four Tips for Site Search Excellence
A good site search function lets shoppers drill down through your product categories and find what they’re looking for, but poor site search can cause potential customers to languish in an endless sea of category pages. With 20 percent of Lillian Vernon’s customers first turning to on-site search upon visiting the site, a robust site search function is crucial to conversion, said Kristen Montella, director of merchandise marketing for the general merchandise cataloger during a panel session last week at eTail 2006, held in Philadelphia. Montella and other panelists offered their thoughts on improving on-site search:
* The search doesn’t stop at the results page: “If a customer’s search yields 150 results that are 100 percent relevant, include pre-defined, refined navigation on the results page,” Montella said. Lillian Vernon customers can automatically refine search results based on brand, on Lillian Vernon exclusives or on item personalization. While customers also have the ability to refine their search with more keywords, Montella stressed the need to provide them with all tools necessary to get past the search and onto a product page to continue the buying process.
* Two sets of analytics are better than one: While the site search programs in use on multititle apparel cataloger Redcats USA’s many sites provide analytics packages showing seasonal search spikes or the frequency of searched keywords, these packages don’t paint a whole picture, noted Francis Lavelle, Redcats’ manager of online strategy. To complete that picture, he integrates Redcats’ search analytics with its Web analytics platform. This enables the company to measure which keyword searches lead to conversions, and how often.
* Search can show you what you don’t know: The terms that customers input on your site can show you which products they think you should carry, as well as alternate names for products you already have, said Jay Shaffer, vice president of marketing for DirectlyHome.com, an online home furnishings merchant. He recalled seeing how Interior design gurus started calling square dining room tables “gathering tables”. Consumers who read interior design magazines and Web sites took note of the term and started searching for these items to put in their homes. Although the DirectlyHome site carries many square dining room tables, customers searching for gathering tables didn’t find any on the site. As he saw searches for this term escalate, Shaffer realized he needed to adjust the descriptions on a few products, as well as add the term to his search thesaurus.
In a similar vein, Lillian Vernon saw searches for Halloween costumes spike in February of this year, well after the products had been pulled off the site, Montella said. While unsure of exactly why customers were looking for these products out of season, she put the costumes back on the site on sale, and saw 50 percent sell-through on the leftover inventory.
Site searches also influenced the structure of Lillian Vernon’s Web site. The growing number of searches containing the keywords “kids” and “children” led Montella and her team to launch the Lilly’s Kids mini-site within the Lillian Vernon domain. Since the mini-site went live this past spring, revenue on a number of children’s products has doubled, Montella said.
* Test, test and test again: “Never assume your site search is working,” Shaffer said. He recommended daily testing searches for both best-selling products and new products. If it’s not working for you, he pointed out, it’s not going to work for your customers. He also stressed the need to have a designated owner of the site search function. With someone wholly dedicated to the job, repairs can be made more efficiently in the event of a problem. “Our search was down for weeks because marketing thought IT owned the process,” he noted. “But IT thought merchandising handled it, and so on down the line.”